Overground vs Treadmill Running

We often use treadmill running for gait analysis. It is a big thing at the moment with most running and and sports stores offering some form of “gait analysis”, some more in-depth than others. For a good blog post on “in store” gait analysis take a look at Matt Phillips blog Why Gait Analysis Won’t Help You Find The Right Shoe.  But (and it’s a big but) how many of us run exclusively run on treadmills? How many of us don’t run on treadmills at all?  If we don’t run on treadmills, but we buy trainers based on a treadmill running assessment, is it the same as running overground?

Treadmill vs Astroturf

There are several factors that could be considered if we ask the question: is it the same? We could be talking about the aerobic capacity or the biomechanics, or the physiological demands of the type of running.  Briefly, Bassett et al. (1985) found that the aerobic requirements of treadmill running versus overground running on a level and inclined surface were not statistically different.  For the purpose of shoe selection or of gait analysis for running technique and style we are more interested in the biomechanics, or more specifically the kinematics (the study of movement from a geometrical point of view), of a persons running style.

The catalyst for me writing this post is the image above, which comes from a gait analysis session with a patient of mine (permission to use the images in this post has kindly been given by the patient).  Before we get going I should point out a few important points:

  • In both scenarios the patient was instructed to run at their “steady run pace”.
  • On the treadmill they were given chance to acclimatise to their preferred pace.
  • They were also used to running on treadmills and performed a mix of treadmill and outdoor running during their training.
  • The gait analysis was not in relation to a particular injury, more from a running economy and performance perspective.

 You can see if we just look at the foot strike (point at which the foot contacts the running surface), the two images are quite different. On the left we can see that the foot lands fairly flat, on its outside edge, whilst on the right the foot lands on the heel in a straighter position.  Not so easy to see in the image, but which was evident in the video, is that the step width is much narrower on the left compared with the right. Nigg et al. (1995) made a kinematic comparison of overground versus treadmill running and found that subjects adapted their landing style on a treadmill so that the foot landed in more of a flat position than in overground running, which is what we see here.  Nigg et al. also found that most of the other variables studied showed an inconsistent pattern based on a individuals athletes landing style, running speed and “shoe/treadmill situation”.

Treadmill vs Astro midstance

But what about the rest of the body? It is important to look above the foot during gait analysis, so who does this individuals running form vary between the two scenarios? We can see that the shoulders and hips are level with the treadmill running, whilst there is a contralateral (opposite) hip drop with the overground running. What was also visible in the video comparison was the amount of sided-to-side head movement was reduced during treadmill running compared to overground running.  This may be due to the constraints of the treadmill leading to a tighter/more uniform control on running form and stride rate (Lindsay et al., 2014).

So what does all this mean?

Well it tells that the running on a treadmill is not the same as running overground. Also that if you are someone who predominantly or exclusively runs overground, treadmill gait analysis is possibly not a true reflection of your running form.  In terms of shoe selection Nigg et al. summarise things quite nicely:

“…individual assessment of running kinematics on a treadmill for shoe or orthotic assessment may possibly lead to inadequate conclusions about overground running.”

My view is that gait analysis is still a useful tool, it can help to see how you run, which is quite often different to how you think you run! But if I have a patient how predominantly runs overground and not on a treadmill, this is how I like to see them run and vice versa.  With regards to shoe selection, use the time on the treadmill to see how the shoe feels, really just ask yourself: Is it comfortable?  If it is then that is a good start.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and if you have any questions, feel free to get in touch.

Thanks for reading.


How Are You Running?

The spring marathon season is just around the corner and those planning running a marathon should really be starting to think about your training and preparation. Yes it seems like its ages away, but as the saying goes “it soon comes round” (is that even a saying? I’m not too sure). Now is the ideal time to take stock of your training and look at making any changes you deem useful.

One aspect you may want to look at is the way you run. The vast majority of us learn to run not long after we learn to walk and from that point on think very little about how we run and why it might be important in terms of both performance and injury prevention. There is an emerging body of evidence that would suggest modification of an individuals running technique (gait re-training) and cadence can help in the treatment and rehabilitation of injuries. There are certain injuries, which appear to correlate with a particular running style or pattern, for example cross-over gait could, possibly be linked with ITB syndrome. A study of 15 runners, by Meardon et al. (2012) found an increase in ITB strain rate as step width decreased (Reference).  By looking at the whole body it is possible to look for patterns of movement, which may effect running style or performance, for example the action of the arms and amount of rotation in the upper body correlates with the leg swing and counter rotation in the lower body and vice versa.

Blog Post 1

Some aspects of an individuals running form can be picked up just by watching them run, whereas other are more subtle, happen quicker and therefore difficult to pick up with the naked eye. This is where video gait analysis comes in. Here I do not mean the knee down, focussing on the foot landing, gait analysis you get in sports shops. I am talking about a whole body top-to-toe video analysis that looks at not only what happens at the feet, but also the knees, hips and upper body. It is only by looking at the whole body that you can get a true reflection of an individuals running style and therefore make adjustments to suit them as an individual.

However, to go back to my previous point about marathon training, if you are going to make adjustments to your running, it takes time for the new movement patterns to develop and to break old habits. Running drills and cues need to be accompanied by the correct strength and conditioning exercises and mobility work, which again need to be developed for the individual. The autumn winter seasons are the perfect time to start looking at your running style and making any changes required.

It is not about pigeon holing you into a category, it is about finding the right style of running for you!

If you would like further information about video gait analysis service provided at Ed Pratt Sports Therapy, please click here.

Happy running.